Mon, May

Let Transit Riders Choose: Pushing Back Against Outside Influence on Transit Choices


SEPULVEDA PASS MONORAIL - In 1993, to try to do my part to reduce air pollution, I kept the car parked and began riding buses. The thought at that time was that not driving two to three times a week would make a positive impact in fighting air pollution in Los Angeles. I found taking transit so much less stressful than driving I then rode  buses to work five days a week, and sometimes on weekends for other matters. 

Once the first Metro light rail and subways line opened, I began riding those. I have ridden every mile of Metro’s light rail and subway lines. 

I increased my transit riding dedication when the science emerged that a large percentage of carbon gases fueling global warming-climate change are from vehicles. With the threats of climate change steadily increasing, individuals, corporations and governments must make changes to reduce the burning of fossil fuels which release carbon gases. 

With my transit riding I began joining organizations supporting mass transit. The first group was the scrappy Friends of the Green Line, joining after the line was built. The group advocated for the extension of the line. This line, the C/Green Line, runs down the middle of the Century/105 Freeway. It was a court ordered compromise, made by non-transit riders. As a transit rider I protest that trains should never run down the middle or on the sides of freeways. The noise is deafening, there is pollution from the vehicles exhaust and particulate matter from the wearing of tires, and the feeling of stuck on a desert island make the experience in-human. 

One transit group I joined which was particularly inspirational was the grass roots Friends4Expo, critically instrumental in the creation of the E/Expo Line which I use regularly. 

Another important group was the late Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s Empowerment Congress and the Transportation Advisory Committee. In all three groups fellow City Watch contributor, Ken Alpern, M.D., was a very active member, and co-chair of the Transportation Advisory Committee. 

Through these groups I attended a number of public meetings and outreach sessions for various transit projects, most involving light rail lines heavy rail subways. 

At these meetings and sessions it was inevitable that there was one person, or a small group, advocating for something other than a rail line. The two most common suggestions were buses, or monorails. 

As a regular transit rider the use of buses make sense in that they have been operating in Los Angeles for over a century. The Los Angeles Motor Bus Company began service August 18, 1923. Culver City Bus and Santa Monica/Big Blue Bus both began service in 1928. 

I ride buses, and I know buses, but also as a rail rider I also know trains are superior to buses for the transit rider navigating the sprawl of the Los Angeles Basin. Trains offer a superior ride, carry more passengers and are faster. 

As for monorail, I was always confused why anyone would support that for the major metropolitan sprawl of Los Angeles. My experiences with monorail are at Disneyland. The monorail never really appealed to me: it was cramped inside; it made noises despite what some call “whisper quiet;” and on more than one visit to the fantasy park it was out of commission for needed repairs. 

The majority of those pushing for the bus and monorail were white men, usually retired (with I guess time on their hands), and a few retired engineers. I would take buses to the these meetings. The monorail supporters drove. I could tell by how they dressed or if there was time afterwards see them in parking lots. To me it seemed the engineers had the attitude that since they are engineers, something as simple as mass transit has easy fixes. 

I would hear these men push their ideas and agendas, and I would become greatly annoyed. It is annoying and infuriating that people with little or no regular transit riding experiences in Los Angeles were trying dictate to me, and my fellow transit riders what, how and what to ride for our transit needs. 

I continue to ride buses and trains, and drive, and there are benefits to riding mass transit, in addition to lessening my carbon footprint to fight climate. 

These following issues have not deterred me, nor should they deter others to riding buses and trains, but these issues are known to transit riders, and not known to non-transit riders which makes their monorail intrusions in the Metro network annoying. 

As a transit rider I am subjected to the hot, glaring sun-made worse with climate change; waiting for buses and walking in the rain-made worse and more intense storms from climate change, trying to make sure transfers between lines are made-and in the Los Angeles sprawl most likely there are transfers. 

So, as a dedicated transit rider when the subway for the Sepulveda Pass was proposed by Metro, my enthusiasm grew for a substantial heavy rail subway line for one the most congested freeways in the county. Later, in an odd move, Metro presented a subway alternative, a monorail. My previous experiences and encounters with monorail supports made me think of the usual subjects proposing monorail. 

But in this case it was different, except for engineers with what seems little no engineering experience in mass transit still in the mix. Homeowners in the high priced neighborhoods of Bel Air and Sherman Oaks had somehow placed a monorail alternative for the Sepulveda Pass. It seems that the opposition was disturbed of the visuals of seeing the heavy rail subway above ground was too much. Yet, the elevated monorail is visual interference. This opposition to heavy rail was too much. 

Then, there are reports these neighborhood are afraid their homes would be swallowed by the earth with the building of the subway tunnels, or when the subway was in service, or from an earthquake. 

Subways are able to withstand tremendous forces of nature thrown at them. Subway systems have gone through major earthquakes throughout the world without major structural damage. Indeed, subways after earthquakes have been able to operate within days of the quakes while the world around them crumbled. 

In the 1984 Mexico City earthquake its subway/metro was used as an emergency command center. In the 1989 Loma Prieta/San Francisco earthquake, its metro, BART, was back in service quickly whereas the Bay Bridge suffered major damage and forty-two people died when the Nimitz Freeway collapsed. Los Angeles has gone through earthquakes with its Metro systems back in operation quickly while parts of freeways and overpasses collapsed or damaged. The 2011 New York/Washington DC earthquake did not damage New York’s famed subway system into non-operation, and the U.S. Senate subway was unscathed. Even Superstorm Sandy of 2012, which flooded NYC’s subway systems, did not cause enough damage to take it out of service for more than a few days. 

The subway lines in Los Angeles have not spontaneously collapsed while in continuous service since their openings. 

Subway tunnels were used as shelter during the blitz of London in World War II, and now by people in Ukraine during the continuing Russian assault on the freedom loving people of Ukraine. 

Hiding under a monorail, the single rail will not provide much protection. 

With the collapse of freeways in Los Angeles and San Francisco from earthquakes, an aerial monorail system, proposed to run in the middle of the freeway, does not seem to acknowledge the potential damage or collapse from earthquake. There would also be the steady decay of the concrete used for the support columns and single rail from weathering and air pollution. How would those columns withstand an accident when rammed by a car, truck/SUV or 18 wheeler semi-trailer, which happens now to freeways? 

Sherman Oaks and Bel Air have low transit ridership. Most of that ridership is probably not the residents, but from workers going into the neighborhood: nannies, cleaning ladies, the critical work from caregivers, and so forth. 

The annoyance continues and grows when individuals and neighborhoods who have little to no knowledge nor experience riding the buses and trains in Los Angeles try to dictate to those of us riding mass transit in Los Angeles. There is no historical record of subways collapsing from use or from earthquakes.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found here.  He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)

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